Livestock News Round-up

Hi folks, it's high time for a farm update! I realized I completely skipped right over alpaca shearing this spring (among other things) – woops!

We sheared the alpacas the first Thursday in April as usual, although this year we did it first thing in the morning rather than in the afternoon like most other years. This meant my usual helper (now an expert shearing assistant) couldn't come as it was a regular work day, but another friend was able to come with her 6 kids – and they were a world of help! They did everything from helping tie down the alpacas to helping bag, to babysitting, they were amazing, especially for their first time at a shearing. I'll definitely be hiring them next spring :-) We also discovered that we had more alpacas than we thought, always a good thing! We told the shearer that there were 14 and he said “nope, I sheared 16”. Sure enough, 16 pacas in the corral :-)

Unfortunately, that is no longer true. We lost Solomon recently, one of our oldest alpacas that we had had since the beginning, he was the third one we bought. He had been acting a little off for a while now, which we attribute to age – he had to be at least 11, but possibly quite a bit older. Then, a few weeks ago, he started demonstrating clear signs of meningeal worms, so we gave him the 5-day treatment and he was on the mend. Then, the morning of the 6th day, I found him strangled in loose fence wire – so heartbreaking and frustrating when you do everything right, and it works – and then ol' Murphy comes along and throws a wrench at you.

The rest of the alpacas seem well, though, and we are expecting another cria either this month or next. Annie had her previous baby last June, so we add 12-13 months for the next due date. Reba won't be due until this winter – her baby last year was born in October, and she's been going about 14 months between crias, so I'm hoping it won't be as late as December but it probably will. We will hold her back for breeding after this one so that next time she'll birth in April, and then work through the warm months again for a few years. We try to avoid having babies in the cold times of year, I'm crossing my fingers this one will come in late October this time.

Our kidding season went pretty well, we have something like 45 babies out there running around. It's another girl-heavy year, with, I believe, 24 little doelings. The boys have 3 bottle babies, there were a few more that needed some help early on but were able to get back nursing on their mamas. The bottle babies are all girls (the boys are very glad, that means they're not scheduled for freezer camp) - Annie, Oakley (matching girls – different moms but almost identical coloring), and Shrimp. Malachi is doing pretty well for his first year bottle-feeding (he's very proud of being a good goat mama), and of the 3 bottles broken so far, only one was his doing :-)

We have been discussing cutting back the goat herd this fall, probably fairly drastically (like maybe half?), for several reasons. A big one is that they are just not coming through the winter in very good condition. We had 2 or 3 miscarriages this spring, and there were several babies that needed bottling early on because their mamas just didn't have enough milk. With a little extra feed, and the spring grass finally coming in well, their milk production rose and the babies are fine, but it's an extra hassle we just don't need. We can manage to coddle a handful of goats when needed, and ideally manage them well enough ahead of time that no coddling is necessary, but dealing with issues in 35 goats and their babies is just not our idea of a fun spring!

We had a goat round-up last weekend, for a basic health-check and hoof trimming, and then a special grading – we usually grade them on several factual criteria: famacha score (iron level), hoof condition, and coat condition. This time, I deliberately graded more subjectively, taking into account things I know about them, like “is she nursing 2 big kids, or did she miscarry and looks this rough without the drain of growing babies?” or “nice sleek coat – but she's limping with hoof rot, and had a DOA baby”. This, paired with my fairly extensive records, will help us evaluate who stays in October. One thing that really stood out this spring, is that the 2-year-old girls who were kidding for the first time did not do well if they were the big-framed girls. They had trouble making enough milk, so had a high rate of initial rejection of babies until we gave them supplemental feed (above the regular herd ration). They were lean to start with, and by May were flat-sided and hollow-hipped with nursing. They were all out of our larger Boer-type goat moms, and maintained that big-boned frame. The new mamas that did well were smaller – this seems obvious with retrospect, that small goats maintain condition better - but it also seems obvious that you should keep nice big healthy girls to raise nice big kids. And as long as you feed lots of grain/pellets I think that works fine. But for a mainly grass-fed operation, we need to stick with the short, stout, round girls to be healthy – my newest addition to the milking goats, Elvira, is the epitome of this. She's one of the smallest goats we have, clearly has some Pygmy in her heritage. We also owned her mother, and have her twin (actually triplet) sister as well. Her mother tripled all 4 years we had her, always successfully. She invariably popped out 3 equal-sized itty-bitty goats that she easily fed. Elvira has not tripled yet, but her sister did last year, a matched set of 3 girls just like her mom would do. Elvira has more milk than any of other my milkers, and her kids are usually bigger than she is by the end of summer. She will be our new standard for “the perfect Solace Farm Homestead goat”.

Other animal news – I'm actually writing this in the car, as we're on the way home from picking up our new Tunis ram (Ewan and Malachi are non-stop baa-ing at each other – it was cute for the first 12 minutes!). We actually started looking for a Tunis ram prior to breeding season this year – they're hard to find and we really like the breed and want to maintain them if possible. We found a farm about 2.5 hours away with a few dozen Tunis sheep, and picked out a nice-looking boy. He had a broken leg as a baby, and was splinted with popsicle sticks for a while, so his name is Styx :-)  Fits nicely with our tree names for the girls. I'm eager to see all our full-Tunis lambs this next spring!

And last news of all, we have 2 calves already! Fern had a little red boy last week, and Bridget also had a red boy this morning (Monday). That brings us to 27 cows, I believe, with as many as 8 more calves possible this summer. Something always goes wrong with one, so we're actually expecting 9 calves total for a probable full count of 34 by fall. We have 2-3 steers that will be ready to butcher this fall, and then from here out it should be more like 4 steers a year and increasing. I'm not sure how many heifers we will keep, but before long we will probably need to start selling them – or decide we're really going into the beef business :-) It's kind of exciting finally getting to the point of having “too many” cows, or at least seeing that point in the near future. It wasn't that long ago that we just had one cow, one bull, and a calf...

Comments

you make me laugh

OH, I love to read these farm reports--the good, the hard news, and of course, the news of the growing boys--afraid I might have joined in on the baaa-ing if I were there! And was the Tunis sheep 25 hours away? or 25 miles? NOt sure how far you would have to go across country to get 25 hours from the farm...

Coulda Been Worse

The Baa-ing was actually better than one alternative - Ewan has decided that blowing raspberries can actually be a full-time activity! Yep, that gets old reeeeal fast! Oh, it was 2 and a 1/2 hours away, not 25 - typo! Thanks!

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